Independence Day is just around the corner, celebrating freedom in this country. Granted, it’s been two score and two years since I learned American History under the tutelage of a guy who, with scraggly beard, long hair, and frontier grab, resembled (and was rumored to be the reincarnated) General Custer. But I seem to recall a most basic freedom was freedom of speech. Hmm, I think—-and correct me if I’m wrong, as I don’t really like watching the news and so could have missed the story—-that right is still intact. And even applies to women. Though you can’t quite tell it with a couple of items in the recent news.
First we had Vaginagate over at the Michigan legislature, in the midst of debate over women’s right to control their own bodies. Michigan state Representative Lisa Brown used the word “vagina” on the House floor. Brown was then barred from speaking by Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, under the guise that Brown’s comments violated the decorum of the House. Another Michigan representative, Mike Carlton, according to the Detroit News, declared that he would not say “that word” in mixed company. The rebel six year old in me immediately begins to taunt, ‘vagina, vagina, vagina,’ even as I run giggling from the room. Apparently, “nice girls don’t say ‘vagina’.” Guess I’m not a nice girl. I’m just one who always did insist on the medically correct term. There were no “pee-pees” nor “jay-jays” when my daughters were growing up, though the older daughter’s pronunciation, “bagina,” did crack up her parents. I think we need to add these guys in the Michigan legislature to the ever-lengthening list of those who need to have their own vagina. Speed up those knitting needles, please. We can’t keep up.
This week we have the US Women’s Tennis Association jumping on the muzzling bandwagon. Turns out nice girls—-powerful, athletic female role models—-need to cease all this unlady-like grunting. Grunt-o-meters will be handed out to refs, who will assess the decibels of the players’ vocalizing, and fine offending players who are too loud. Reminds me of that Bette Davis quote:
When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.
Apparently, when a man grunts while playing tennis, he’s powerful and macho. When a woman grunts while playing tennis, she’s offensive. I could not locate the year Bette voiced that truth, but she’s been dead for 23 years. She’s probably spinning in her grave to realize not much has changed in the ensuing decades.
Subtle sexism about how women should behave is dangerous enough when it just lurks, unspoken, in our minds. I was on a conference call yesterday, planning for the panel I’ll be participating with at BlogHer 12, and we were discussing the various “isms” related to age, gender, and race. One participant shared how horrifying comments will slip out of her mouth e.g. “how can that woman be wearing that–she’s too old for that style!” in spite of her enlightened intentions. I truly don’t know which is worse: when we don’t recognize the bias, or when it smacks us in the face overtly, as it has in the news stories above. I do know that all women who value their freedom of speech can police their own internal dialogues, as preparation for challenging continuing sexism in society as a whole. Let’s remember how Coco Chanel challenged us:
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
Who says we can’t grunt? Maybe even grunt a raucous chorus of “vagina, vagina, vagina” to celebrate the 4th.